England

Court closures 'stressing out' victims and witnesses, report says

Taunton Crown Court Image copyright Google
Image caption Smaller crown courts like Taunton are bearing the brunt of courtroom closures

Victims and witnesses are being put under unnecessary pressure and stress due to crown court sitting days being cut by the government, a report says.

Barristers who work across the south west on the Western Circuit, said in a report sitting days fell by 15% last year, causing major delays to trials.

Western Circuit leader, Kate Brunner QC said: "Currently knife crime is rising but courts are sitting empty."

HM Courts and Tribunals Service says in November it allocated 700 extra days.

'Chaotic scenes'

A sitting day is when a court opens for trials, hearings and case management. They have been cut by almost 15%, from 97,400 in 2018-19 to 82,300 in 2019-20.

The Western Circuit represents barristers in the south west, from Winchester, to Gloucester and Truro.

"The Ministry of Justice should open courtrooms so that justice can actually be done in court.

"People are waiting years for trials to happen. It's no wonder more and more witnesses are deciding that they can't wait that long, and withdrawing their support for prosecutions.

"Over a fifth of police investigations now stop because witnesses have had enough. That's bad for everyone - apart from criminals," she added.

She also said "chaotic scenes were being played out of delays, last-minute adjournments and interruptions".

"The toll this is taking on witnesses, professionals, judges and others is being ignored," said Ms Brunner QC.

Cases are also being moved to other courts, sometimes 100 miles away, at very short notice.

This left one prison taking a defendant to the wrong court.

Chair of the Bar Council, Amanda Pinto QC said: "You've got all of the stress and the impact of that on the witnesses, and of course on the defendant.

"It may be that he or she is not guilty but the time lapse is very significant."

Judges sitting at smaller two-court centres, such as Gloucester and Taunton, are also burdened with the extra workload when one of them closes.

She added that the cuts were being felt nationally and more investment was needed.

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